50 Years Ago: “Racial Myths” – Pamphlet Review

WHATEVER MAY BE SAID about the sorry record of the UNITED NATIONS in other spheres, UNESCO has certainly succeeded in implementing its resolution of 1948 to disseminate scientific facts designed to bring about the disappearance of race prejudice. Four of its recent publications on various aspects of this question [are titled] “Racial Myths”, “Race and Culture”, The Roots of Prejudice” and “Race and Psychology”. All are worth reading, but the first, written by Juan Comas, gives the most general approach to the whole subject, providing a useful introduction to the other three more specialised pamphlets.

The author shows that race prejudice is of comparatively recent origin, being developed as a doctrine only in the last two or three centuries. Before the 15th century the division of mankind was not so much into antagonistic races as into “Christians and infidels”. The colonization of Africa and the discovery of America, with the resulting demand for cheap and slave labour, let to the first real growth of racist ideas. Comas describes how the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest was suitably adapted at the time of great Colonial expansion to justify the enslavement of the “inferior” human groups:

“. . . the truth is that with coloured societies becoming potential competitors in the labour market and claiming the social advantages regarded as exclusively the heritage of the whites, the latter were obviously in need of some disguise for the utter economic materialism which led them to deny the “inferior” peoples any share in the privileges they themselves enjoyed.”

Thus the immediate cause of racial discrimination is acknowledged to be a social-economic antagonism. Yet having gone so far as to admit this, Comas is reluctant to go farther into the matter to determine the reasons for this antagonism. Possibly he regards this as being outside the scope of his subject, but more likely, at least from the point of view of the organization for whom he writes, he knows where to stop.

(From front page article by S.R.P., Socialist Standard, January 1952)

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